When I got my first smartphone (a second generation iPhone, way back when) the first thing I did was go the App store and look up science apps. Yes, I’m that much of a nerd, it didn’t even occur to me to look up games. The first one I downloaded was “Molecules,” a free app that renders 3D images of protein structures and other molecules based on data available from multiple databases. You can switch between viewing modes (Ball-and-Stick or Space-fill). Aside from looking up random molecules, and staring at them, there’s not that much you can do with it unless you know how to create protein structure files. Then you can visualize your own proteins!
One of the first science apps that actually had some application for bench scientists came from New England Biolabs. “NEB Tools” gives you information on restriction enzymes, helps you design double digestions, and also helps you set up your PCR reaction. Life Technologies has taken it a step further with its app “CloningBench,” that does the same as the NEB one and also has a molarity calculator (for those of us who are not so good at conversions), a PCR MasterMix calculator, and even a ligation calculator for the cloners out there. Life Technologies also has some free apps for applications like cytometry, cell culture, and one to check the spectral compatibility for fluorophores for RT-PCR and other applications.
Another free one I’ve heard about is “Protocolpedia,” a biology protocol database designed by the website of the same name, which is maintained by a community of researchers who post pre-tested protocols and also has forums where you can ask for help with your experiments. The app also has a calculator, access to videos and other educational resources, and lets you select your favorite protocols and store them for easy access. Always check with your advisor before starting a protocol not designed in your lab!
For the chemists out there, there are a bunch of free apps, too, like Sigma-Aldrich’s “HPLC Calculator” which can help you determine the best transfer conditions between columns, recommends flow-rates depending on the column, among other applications. Another app, “Elemental,” helps you create chemical sketches of molecules, estimates chemical properties based on the molecular composition, has a built-in Periodic Table, and helps you sketch chemical reactions. Any sketches produced can be tweeted or e-mailed from your phone.
Most of these apps are available for iOS and Android platforms. Do you have a favorite Science app? Let us know in the comments section!